Claremont Meals on Wheels celebrates 50 years of continuous giving

A Claremont Meals on Wheels worker scoops vegetables and chicken into a tray on April 17. Courier photo/Andrew Alonzo

by Andrew Alonzo |

In September of 1972, five members from Our Lady of the Assumption Church’s Christian family movement group banded together for social action: addressing food insecurity in and around Claremont. And 50 years later, Claremont Meals on Wheels has yet to miss a day of service.

About two years prior to its founding, Susan Keith, the organization’s current vice president, her husband Jim Keith, locals Mary and Chris Caenepeel, and longtime Claremonter Jane Winanet — who sounded the initial call to deliver meals to City of Trees seniors — took tours of Meals on Wheels America organizations in Redlands and Pasadena, the two closest to Claremont at the time. Seeing their impact, they decided to create Claremont Meals on Wheels.

For five decades volunteers have brought nutritious, healthy meals throughout the week to Claremont residents — mostly seniors and those not physically able to prepare meals.

“It could be somebody who needs our service for a couple weeks if they’re having surgery, or a month. Or it could be somebody that needs the service ongoing,” said Barbara Gonzalez, president of the nonprofit’s board of directors. “We have some clients that have been with us about 10 years.”

It does not receive assistance from Meals on Wheels America, the federal food delivery program supported and overseen by the United States Health and Human Services Department. Instead, it thrives with its 130 members — who were celebrated between April 17 and 28 as part of volunteer appreciation week — and donations from the city, community groups such as the Economy Shop and Kiwanis Club of Claremont, and locals.


Dinny Rasmussen, a longtime volunteer for Claremont Meals on Wheels, loads her car on April 17. Courier photo/Andrew Alonzo


At first, CMOW received food from Griswold’s Old School House Shopping Center — now the site of the DoubleTree by Hilton, Piano Piano, and other businesses — and packed items up at St. Ambrose Episcopal Church a few blocks away. That arrangement held for a decade before the group relocated to a basement kitchen on the Mount San Antonio Gardens campus, where it has remained since.

Day captains arrive for sanitation and meal prep every weekday at 8:30 a.m. Packers show up later to sort meals, which consists of a main entrée, vegetables, a starch, salad, dressing, milk, bread and butter, fruit, and a dessert. A diet variant with low sugar items and more greens is also offered. Drivers load food storage containers into their vehicles and set out about 10:30.

The COVID-19 pandemic threatened the group’s weekday routine. About 50 percent of the volunteers — who are primarily seniors — had to opt out due to being at high risk for infection. Predictably, CMOW’s client list spiked at the same time. The reduced staff made about 70 deliveries daily, and nearly 100 on Fridays. In 2023, its client list is back to near pre-pandemic levels, about 60 per day.

Lisa Frank, CMOW board secretary and a driver, said volunteers prepare at least 50 two-pound meals per client every weekday. Multiply that by the 260 days they deliver, and it equates to about 26,000 pounds of food each year.

“It makes me happy to know people are eating,” Gonzalez said.

Aside from deliveries, drivers have been known to shuttle clients to and from errands, especially during Covid. “Because most of these seniors were homebound, we personally took some of the clients to get vaccinations when they first came out,” Frank said. Drivers have also called Claremont police to conduct wellness checks on clients when they suspect something’s amiss.

Claremont Meals on Wheels Board President Barbara Gonzalez and Claremont Mayor Ed Reece pictured April 19 at CMOW’s volunteer appreciation week dinner and ceremony at DoubleTree by Hilton. Courier photo/Andrew Alonzo

Due to increased food costs, the price of a daily meal has swelled to $4.50 per day. Meals at reduced rates for those on fixed incomes are $2. About 50 percent of the clientele are eligible for the low-cost meal plan, which is supported by a grant from the Kiwanis Club of Claremont.

“Our goal for this year and the future is to get the [CMOW] word out,” Frank said, adding she thinks more seniors should know about an affordable food program they can utilize.

Frank and Gonzalez are eyeing another 50 years of service and hope more volunteers will donate their time either as drivers or essential personnel. Visit or call (909) 621-4018 to inquire.

The nonprofit also holds quarterly fundraisers at El Ranchero, 984 W. Foothill Blvd., Claremont, where 25% of sales are donated to CMOW. Check for more details.


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